Locating Consumption in Modern Europe and the United States: Consumer Societies and the Specificity of Place

AHA Session 184
Saturday, January 5, 2013: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Cornet Room (Sheraton New Orleans)
Judith G. Coffin, University of Texas at Austin
Mona Domosh, Dartmouth College

Session Abstract

Although historians once treated consumption as a universally homogenizing force, recent scholarship has taken up new questions about the mutually constitutive interaction of consumption, gender, race, class, and nationhood.  Within this emerging literature, however, questions of power and difference often play out on a static landscape.  Even as scholars have probed new commercial spaces such as the department store or mall, most have not considered those institutions as situated within a specific geographic location.  Individually, and together, the projects proposed here assert the significance of place to understanding the consumer experience.  Moving amidst the linked environments of cityscape, region, and nation, this panel reveals how physical and imagined locales shape the way that consumer culture has historically been produced, enacted, and interpreted in the Western world.

In so doing, this panel also contributes to the lively conversation about the role of consumer culture in the creation and maintenance of systems of power.  Each of our papers examines issues of consumption, difference, representation, and belonging as refracted through the lens of place.  We consider, for example, tourism and the remaking of race in post-statehood Hawai'i; the efforts of French advertisers to stimulate postwar consumption by conjuring the image of the American woman; the feminization of turn-of-the-century Chicago’s central business district and resultant attempts to regulate the physical traffic of women shoppers on the level of the street; the rise of Berlin’s luxury hospitality industry and its role in framing a twentieth-century German nationalist discourse about the Weltstadt, or world city.  Taken together, these four papers illuminate how place has shaped and been shaped by modern consumer culture, which we approach as at once transnational and specific.  The questions raised in this panel will be of interest to historians not only of consumer society, but also of the built environment, nationalism, and capitalist transformation.

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